Alan Kirkland

A high-profile and fierce critic of perceived conflicts of interest and campaigner against product commissions, Choice CEO Alan Kirkland has been appointed by Treasury as one of three new ASIC commissioners.

Kirkland, who declined to comment on his appointment but will step into the powerful role in November, will be joined by Treasury official Katherine O’Rourke and Commonwealth Bank executive Simone Constant.

As CEO of the consumer advocacy outfit for the past decade, he has spearheaded opposition to the Quality of Advice Review recommendations, warning it was a “recipe for another royal commission”.

“The biggest scandals in financial advice have involved large banks and super funds, yet they will be the greatest beneficiaries of the recommendations in this report,” he said in February after the government publicly released the final QAR report.

“They will be able to undercut independent professional advisers by pushing out cheap and shoddy advice on a mass scale, provided by unqualified staff.”

He was also involved in the campaign against investment commissions paid to advisers in the lead-up to the Future of Financial Advice reforms and a vocal voice against the ongoing payment of insurance commissions. Before joining Choice, he was executive director of the Australian Law Reform Commission and CEO of Legal Aid New South Wales.

But despite his at-times strident criticism of the financial services industry, and opposition to deregulation efforts, Kirkland has also built strong interpersonal ties with many in the sector. He has served as a judge in awards programs previously operated by Conexus Financial, publisher of Professional Planner, and appeared regularly as a spokesperson in the company’s media titles.

An unlikely ally, Peter Johnston of the Association of Independently Owned Financial Professionals issued a statement praising Kirkland’s appointment. “Alan has demonstrated over a long period of time his rigid dedication to the best interest of consumers and backed up by his commercial acumen, a rare combination in today’s world,” Johnston tells Professional Planner.

Though it has been an adversary of Choice’s on the topic of insurance commissions, the AIOFP worked with consumer advocates on the so-far unsuccessful campaign to have managed investment schemes added to the government’s slated Compensation Scheme of Last Resort.

Fellow consumer advocates have also welcomed Kirkland’s appointment as a win for the broader movement. “Alan Kirkland becoming an ASIC commissioner would bring a positive influence,” Australian Citizens Party spokesperson Robbie Barwick says.

“But unless ASIC’s regulatory philosophy is overhauled away from caveat emptor to aggressively policing financial crime at all levels, I fear his influence will be marginal.”

The minor party, which represents consumer interests with a focus on victims of financial fraud and white-collar crime, is part of a growing number of critics of ASIC, which have been successful in helping to establish specific hearings of the Senate Economics References Committee examining the regulator’s performance, championed by outspoken Coalition Senator Andrew Bragg.

Kirkland’s appointment bolsters the consumer advocate ranks of the corporate regulator, following the appointment of former ACCC commissioner Sarah Court as ASIC deputy chair in April 2021.

Some industry sources say his addition to the commissioner’s bench may undermine previous Coalition Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s hope to encourage a more “business-friendly” regulator. He appointed former Deutsche Bank lawyer Joe Longo as chair in early 2021.